"The Government should create, issue, and circulate all the currency and credits needed to satisfy the spending power of the Government and the buying power of consumers. By the adoption of these principles, the taxpayers will be saved immense sums of interest. Money will cease to be master and become the servant of humanity." — Abraham Lincoln
"I believe that every individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruits of his labor, so far as it in no way interferes with any other men's rights." — Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln i/ˈeɪbrəhæm ˈlɪŋkən/ (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and promoting economic and financial modernization. Reared in a poor family on the western frontier, Lincoln was mostly self-educated. He became a country lawyer, an Illinois state legislator, and a one-term member of the United States House of Representatives, but failed in two attempts to be elected to the United States Senate.
After opposing the expansion of slavery in the United States in his campaign debates and speeches, Lincoln secured the Republican nomination and was elected president in 1860. Before Lincoln took office in March, seven southern slave states declared their secession and formed the Confederacy. When war began with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, Lincoln concentrated on both the military and political dimensions of the war effort, seeking to reunify the nation. He vigorously exercised unprecedented war powers, including the arrest and detention without trial of thousands of suspected secessionists. He prevented British recognition of the Confederacy by skillfully handling the Trent affair late in 1861. He issued his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and promoted the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, abolishing slavery.
Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including commanding general Ulysses S. Grant. He brought leaders of various factions of his party into his cabinet and pressured them to cooperate. Under his leadership, the Union set up a naval blockade that shut down the South's normal trade, took control of the border slave states at the start of the war, gained control communications with gunboats on the southern river systems, and tried repeatedly to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond. Each time a general failed, Lincoln substituted another until finally Grant succeeded in 1865. An exceptionally astute politician deeply involved with power issues in each state, he reached out to War Democrats and managed his own re-election in the 1864 presidential election.
As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican party, Lincoln found his policies and personality were "blasted from all sides": Radical Republicans demanded harsher treatment of the South, War Democrats desired more compromise, Copperheads despised him, and irreconcilable secessionists plotted his death. Politically, Lincoln fought back with patronage, by pitting his opponents against each other, and by appealing to the American people with his powers of oratory. His Gettysburg Address of 1863 became the most quoted speech in American history. It was an iconic statement of America's dedication to the principles of nationalism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy. At the close of the war, Lincoln held a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to reunite the nation speedily through a policy of generous reconciliation in the face of lingering and bitter divisiveness. But six days after the surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was assassinated by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre. His death was the first assassination of a U.S. president and sent the northern parts of the country into mourning. Lincoln has been consistently ranked by scholars and the public as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents.
Redefining the Republic & Republicanism
The successful reunification of the states had consequences for the name of the country. The term "the United States" has historically been used, sometimes in the plural ("these United States"), and other times in the singular, without any particular grammatical consistency. The Civil War was a significant force in the eventual dominance of the singular usage by the end of the 19th century.
In recent years, historians such as Harry Jaffa, Herman Belz, John Diggins, Vernon Burton and Eric Foner have stressed Lincoln's redefinition of republican values. As early as the 1850s, a time when most political rhetoric focused on the sanctity of the Constitution, Lincoln redirected emphasis to the Declaration of Independence as the foundation of American political values—what he called the "sheet anchor" of republicanism. The Declaration's emphasis on freedom and equality for all, in contrast to the Constitution's tolerance of slavery, shifted the debate. As Diggins concludes regarding the highly influential Cooper Union speech of early 1860, "Lincoln presented Americans a theory of history that offers a profound contribution to the theory and destiny of republicanism itself." His position gained strength because he highlighted the moral basis of republicanism, rather than its legalisms. Nevertheless, in 1861, Lincoln justified the war in terms of legalisms (the Constitution was a contract, and for one party to get out of a contract all the other parties had to agree), and then in terms of the national duty to guarantee a republican form of government in every state. Burton (2008) argues that Lincoln's republicanism was taken up by the Freedmen as they were emancipated.
In March 1861, in his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln explored the nature of democracy. He denounced secession as anarchy, and explained that majority rule had to be balanced by constitutional restraints in the American system. He said "A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people."
John Wilkes Booth was a well-known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland; though he never joined the Confederate army, he had contacts with the Confederate secret service. In 1864, Booth formulated a plan (very similar to one of Thomas N. Conrad previously authorized by the Confederacy) to kidnap Lincoln in exchange for the release of Confederate prisoners.
After attending an April 11, 1865, speech in which Lincoln promoted voting rights for blacks, an incensed Booth changed his plans and became determined to assassinate the president. Learning that the President, First Lady, and head Union general Ulysses S. Grant would be attending Ford's Theatre, Booth formulated a plan with co-conspirators to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson, Secretary of State William H. Seward and General Grant. Without his main bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln left to attend the play Our American Cousin on April 14. Grant along with his wife chose at the last minute to travel to Philadelphia instead of attending the play.
Lincoln's bodyguard, John Parker, left Ford's Theater during intermission to join Lincoln's coachman for drinks in the Star Saloon next door. The now unguarded President sat in his state box in the balcony. Seizing the opportunity, Booth crept up from behind and at about 10:13 pm, aimed at the back of Lincoln's head and fired at point-blank range, mortally wounding the President. Major Henry Rathbone momentarily grappled with Booth, but Booth stabbed him and escaped.
After being on the run for 10 days, Booth was tracked down and found on a farm in Virginia, some 30 miles (48 km) south of Washington, D.C. After a brief fight, Booth was killed by Union soldiers on April 26.
An Army surgeon, Doctor Charles Leale, assessed Lincoln's wound as mortal. The dying man was taken across the street to Petersen House. After being in a coma for nine hours, Lincoln died at 7:22 am on April 15. Presbyterian minister Phineas Densmore Gurley, then present, was asked to offer a prayer, after which Secretary of War Stanton saluted and said, "Now he belongs to the ages."
Lincoln's flag-enfolded body was then escorted in the rain to the White House by bareheaded Union officers, while the city's church bells rang. Vice President Johnson was sworn in as President at 10:00 am the day after the assassination. Lincoln lay in state in the East Room, and then in the Capitol Rotunda from April 19 through April 21. For three weeks, his funeral train brought the body to cities across the North for large-scale memorials attended by hundreds of thousands, as well as many people who gathered in informal trackside tributes with bands, bonfires and hymn singing.